Category Archives: Letters from Armorica

Letters from Armorica: Spring (1 July 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

29 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

Brother Edward has been taking my advice, in the face of all history, and I have high hopes that we may soon see an understanding betwixt him and my dear Jane Willoughby. We have been together for tea on several occasions; he has been quite clear about his devotion to her, and as he has adjusted his manner (and as the intriguing Lieutenant Archer has remained on leave, in some other part of the country), I do believe Miss Willoughby has begun to return it.

Indeed, I know she has, for she spoke to me briefly upon leaving just this afternoon.

"I believe I was quite mistaken in your brother," she said. "You had taught me to think him dull, but we had quite an enjoyable chat just now. And he seems to be taking to country life. We spoke of Father's plans for his flocks, and Edward said—oh, but you don't care about farming, do you, my dear?" And she tapped me on the shoulder with her parasol, and mounted her carriage.

But there remains a cloud in Edward's sky: the attentions he continues to receive from the Grimsby sisters, who are quite shameless and every bit as determined as Edward Hargreaves. They plague him in Stourton, if he should chance to go to town; they find if he goes riding; while he is out in the fields talking with the men, across the fields they come walking. They have done everything but show up at our door and demand to see him!

It has become quite a joke with the men, Blightwell tells me…though when I inquired as to what kind of a joke he turned quite red and refused to say.

Though I surprise myself by saying it, I must call myself comparatively happy in Mr. Hargreaves' attentions, for there is only one of him, and as he has duties of his own he cannot be constantly underfoot. But Agatha and Matilda Grimsby seem to have no other thought in their head but Edward; and as they pursue him as a pair, neither willing to let the other out of her sight, he must be always dealing not only with their unwanted presence but also with the slow bubbling current of sisterly bile that passes constantly between them under their too sweet smiles and protestations of affection.

I mean to say, even Brother Edward has noticed it.

I thought to help him, for with his new work and his new love he has become a much less vexing companion, and so I invited Miss Willoughby and the Misses Grimsby to tea yesterday, trusting that the latter would take note of the dashing of all of their hopes; and I have no doubt that they did. All of Edward's attention was for Jane, while I did my best to occupy the Grimsbys with every country matter I could put to my tongue: the lovely spring weather, the latest regimental gossip, the upcoming ball, the prospect for a warm summer.

The Grimsbys said little, casting many a pointed glance at my brother and at each other while I babbled at them; for if they are divided in their pursuit, they are at the very least united in their determination that Jane Willoughby shall not have him. But what can they do? I may say I had quite a warm feeling in my heart as I bundled their disgruntled selves into their carriage and sent them home.

Oh, yes, the ball, the long-awaited ball! It is to take place at Stourness this coming Friday, for the moon will be full. The invitations have been sent and the responses received, as I well know for I have been Jane's assistant in all of this, and it promises to be quite the affair of the season. Papa and Mama are coming up from Yorke to attend, and I have every hope that when next I write I will have news of an engagement.

Your cheerful cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Absences (24 June 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

22 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I am at an impasse. I cannot proceed with my magical studies without a teacher—without someone who can explain what all of these tantalizing words mean and what they are for. The books I have are no help—no further help—and the only man in the vicinity I might ask is unavailable. Doubly, perhaps triply unavailable.

I speak, of course, of the good Lieutenant Archer, who might or might not even know the answers to my questions, but whom I have been completely unable to speak with at any length.

As we are not affianced, I cannot write him letters.

I can invite him to tea; but for my own countenance I must invite others, with whom I do not at all wish to discuss wizardry.

I can speak to him on the street in Stourton, should I happen to pass him; but not for long before Edward Hargreaves charges in and begins to bristle.

I suppose I must write Papa and see if he can find me a teacher, or at least a wizard with whom I may have an interview.

In the meantime, Edward Hargreaves is far too much underfoot. He insists on squiring me about Stourton whenever I visit there—as if he could ever be the squire—and on riding with me if he chances upon me whilst I am out for my daily ride. I do believe he lies in wait for me. And then, he comes to visit Brother Edward nearly daily to talk about farming, which is quite reasonable; but then Brother Edward brings him to the library to torment me.

Yes, dear Armand, that is unfair. Edward does not bring the man in precisely to torment me. But he does bring him in, and then I must use all my address to avoid being rude.

I begin to think I must begin to be as rude as I know how, if I wish to discourage the man. Though I am not at all sure it would work, for Mr. Hargreaves has quite settled his mind. I am not sure I could change it with a cannon: head gone, idea still present.

Have I shocked you, dear Armand? I am sorry, if so.

I have had a small respite this last week, for Mr. Hargreaves has gone into the city for some reason or other; but though I looked eagerly for Lieutenant Archer at the market, I did not see him. I did meet Lieutenant Pertwee, who told me that Archer had been given leave to go home over some kind of family matter "but would no doubt be back soon, right as rain."

I do have one spot of bright news. Mrs. Willoughby invited Brother Edward and I to tea this week, and Edward had the good sense to ask me what he should talk about.

"When it comes to your activities with Blightwell," I said, "only answer questions they ask you. Let the Willoughbys guide the conversation. Ask Jane about her health and how she is enjoying the spring weather."

He nodded seriously, and took it all in. I must say, Armand, country life has been good for Edward. Back in Yorke he was the most serious of his entire crowd, none of whom had any particular occupation, and was accustomed to think himself superior because of it. Here in Wickshire even the gentlemen his age have their proper tasks, tasks about which he knew nothing when he came—and he has begun to learn something about them. Perhaps one day, he might even listen to me if I tell me that I have not the least intention of marrying Edward Hargreaves.

Your pleased tho' frustrated cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Nodes and Nods (17 June 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

15 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I begin to think that the most import aspects of wizardry simply aren't written down. Perhaps they cannot be—perhaps they can only be taught through experience. But it is my belief that Cumbrian wizards simply do not want idle folk like myself engaging in wizardly experiments. Thus, they write down the tricky mathematical and theoretical bits, and leave the practical bits ensconced in their wizardly heads.

Somehow, it is clear, one produces a flow of power, which is then managed to some end. How one produces this flow is never stated. Where does the magical power come from? From the wizard? Or from some other source? If from the wizard, how does the wizard produce it? By force of will? By exertion of physical strength? By reading back issues of Martle's Peerage and concentrating on the really long entries?

Yes, dear Armand, of course that's absurd.

Then, once one has the power in hand, if that's the proper term, one directs it through a series of nodes. I have finally determined precisely what a node is. A node, I am given to understand, is something through which magic can flow. A sublime and satisfying thought! Something through which magic can flow! How could I have missed that?

And one's choice of node is of immense importance, so says Carmichael, for one must choose nodes suitable to one's end, considering their capacity, and luminance, and translucence, and sublimity, and esoteric weight, and a baker's dozen of other qualities, none of which are explained in detail except in terms of how they affect the calculations.

And then, one must arrange the nodes in pattern most conducive to one's end…which end is described in similarly helpful terms.

However, there is no list of commonly used nodes—or ends, either—in any of the books father has brought me.

But all is not gloom and despair. I have learned one useful thing about the symmetry of the nodes, which is that it has more to do with the relationships between the nodes rather than how they are positioned in space. One of the more introductory books spoke of beads and strings: what matters is which beads are connected to which other beads, and how long the strings are that connect them. The beads represent the nodes, and the strings represent the flows from node to node; and the length of the strings might be the distance in space—I think—but might also be in terms of other qualities. In some arrangements, all of the distances are measured in terms of the same quality; in other more powerful arrangements, the qualities may differ. And I think it depends very much on which kinds of node one chooses, though how you connect them remains a mystery.

So as you can see, dearest Armand, I have learned a great deal and gotten nowhere. But perhaps I am boring you, so I will dismount from my hobby horse and pass the news.

I invited Miss Willoughby to tea this past Monday, tête-à-tête, and naturally Edward joined us for a time. He said little, and stayed just long enough to consume a cup of tea and two rock cakes; but he greeted my dear Jane most politely and hung on her every word. It was most unlike him, and I do believe that he has taken to heart Papa's injunction that he must listen if he is to learn.

For I may say, Cousin Armand, that he is quite different from the agricultural enthusiast of whom I wrote several weeks ago. Blightwell tells me that Edward is really beginning to come to grips with the complexities of running a large and established estate—that there are no simple changes, for anything one does must necessarily affect half-a-dozen other things. And I do believe the work suits him.

Once he had left, Jane turned to me and asked plainly, "Did my mother put you up to this?" She had greeted me quite warmly on arrival, but now her tones were decidedly frosty.

"I presume you are speaking of my brother's presence?"

"I am."

"He does live here," I said. "One could hardly expect him not to pay his respects."

But she was not mollified, and selected a cake with a cold dignity.

"Very well, yes," I said, "your mother had a word with me. But if you think I put Edward up to anything, you are gravely mistaken. It is not as if he pays any attention to what I say." That took her aback, for she could not but admit the justice of what I said. I pressed on. "And more, Edward has been after me to invite you to tea for many weeks. I should have done so before now had the weather permitted."

The cake snapped in her fingers, leaving her all in crumbs. "He has?"

I nodded. "I know you haven't so much as glanced at him, but it is clear as day to everyone else that he's smitten."

"He is?"

"Certainly. And why shouldn't he be? Mind you, he has no idea how to go about it, poor dear. And he's off his stride at the moment, for he's being pursued by the younger Grimsbys."

She pursed her lips, clearly deciding what to think about that. "I did notice that you sat him with them at dinner. I assumed it was his preference, and I confess I thought poorly of him for it."

"No, no, I am afraid I was working off a grudge. Against him, not against them, you understand. But he's far too good for them, and he has steadied a great deal in the past weeks. Were you aware that Blightwell is teaching him how to manage our estate here?"

"Mother did say something, I believe, but she is always saying things, you know. One can't always be listening."

I agreed that one couldn't, and we passed onto other matters. But I have planted a seed; now it is up to them as to how they go on!

Your scheming cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Chance Meetings (10 June 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

8 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

Now I am for it, and no mistake. I wish to relate to you three social events that happened this week, from which you may draw your own conclusions—in addition to the ones I shall of course provide for you.

This past Wednesday, Edward and I were invited to tea at the Grimsbys. This was unusual: they do invite me to tea, though less frequently now that it is clear that I am not in an interesting situation, but they have never before included Edward in the invitation.

By now, you should have some idea of what tea with the Grimsbys is like—just on the edge of insulting, at least for me—but I could hardly imagine they would treat me so in my brother's presence, nor did they. Indeed, they treated me to tea and then ignored me. Instead, Agatha and Matilda devoted themselves to Edward while their mother smiled and said pretty things to him.

Edward said little on his return to The Elms, though distress painted his face, and fled into Blightwell's cubby and his new work as another man might head for the decanter. I found the event instructive, for I learned many things in a short time: how to use a sharp elbow, and how to step on a sister's hem so that she cannot arise, and things of this nature, and not least, to my great surprise, that I really am quite fond of Edward.

It was no new discovery that I do not want a Grimsby for a sister.

Thursday was Market Day in Stourton, and a fine spring day, so I had Tom Coachman drive me and my abigail into town. I won't bore you with a list of my purchases…but as I passed the library I happened to encounter Lieutenant Archer. Miss Derby dropped back a few steps, as a well-trained abigail should, so that the lieutenant might take my arm.

"I won't ask what brings you to Stourton, Miss Montjoy," he said, waving at the crowd, "for the reason is everywhere plain."

"Indeed," I said, as we continued down the square. "Though I am grateful to have met you here, lieutenant, for there is a question I should like to ask you."

"Is there?" He seemed puzzled, and not sure whether to be pleased or worried.

"Yes. I have been doing some reading about wizardry—", I began, and felt his arm jerk just a trifle, "—and I beg you to explain—"


The air of worry was stronger, now. I at once inferred that Miss Willoughby had been asking him questions he found difficult to answer…or, perhaps, he found the answers impossible to explain.

"What, pray tell, is it good for? From the books I have looked into it seems to be solely an intellectual and speculative endeavor, with no practical uses of any kind. It might as well be a branch of mathematics."

"Well, it—"

"I mean to say, your great-uncle was the Royal Wizard. Surely His Majesty got some use out of him? Surely he was more than an ornament, a court functionary of the sort intended to add color to the court and allow His Majesty to boast to the other monarchs?"

Whatever he had feared I would ask, this was not it, for he smiled at me; but before he could answer we were accosted by a stormy Edward Hargreaves.

"Miss Montjoy," he said, tipping his hat. Then, in darker tones, "Lieutenant."

By the standards of Market Day, Lieutenant Archer should have relinquished my arm and bid me good day, but the greeting was a challenge that the lieutenant could not readily ignore. He retained my arm and said, mildly but with a barely perceptible edge, "Is there something you wish to say to me, Mr. Hargreaves?" he replied

"No, sir, nothing at all," said Mr. Hargreaves, but as he said it in the same tones his meaning was perfectly clear: he wished for the lieutenant to vanish into the distance and never reappear.

Lieutenant Archer regarded him coolly for a moment, then released my arm and said, "Another time, Miss Montjoy," bowed slightly, and left us. Mr. Hargreaves watched him go with a surly satisfaction.

I made haste to speak, for it was all too plain what sort of gallantries were likely to ensue, and I had no patience for them. "Why so stormy, Mr. Hargreaves?" I began, feigning not to know, which took him aback; and then, before he could navigate his confusion I continued, "And is it you who has been filling my brother's head with mangelwurzels?"

My strong nudge to his hobby horse succeeded in diverting him. He took my arm, and as we proceeded, he said, "Mangelwurzels, Miss Montjoy? I may have done. Great things are being done with them down south, you know."

"Were you aware that Edward proposed to plant them here?" I did not mention Edward's plan about the apple orchard, for as I say I have a newfound fondness for him and did not wish to expose him to ridicule.

"But he mustn't do that!" he cried in true horror, which I admit raised him slightly in my esteem. He enumerated the reasons why around two sides of the square, where we were met by Mrs. Willoughby.

"Just the young lady I was wanting to see," she said with a smile. Hargreaves bid me good day with an air of disappointment; Mrs. Willoughby continued to smile as she watched him walk away. "He might do for you," she said. "Easy to manage, that type."

"I think I should prefer Lieutenant Pertwee, on the main," I said lightly. "Having no thoughts of his own, he would have no thought but for me, and I wouldn't have to come second to mangelwurzels and irrigation."

"Not Lieutenant Archer?"

"He's penniless, poor lad," I said. "Of good family, my father assures me, but he's a younger son."

"Ah. A pity, I may say. He is quite a fine figure of a man."

"So is Edward Hargreaves," I said drily.

"Yes, but it is about Lieutenant Archer I wish to speak."

I looked at her in some surprise. "How so?"

"Come now, my dear, you cannot have failed to note my dear Jane's interest. Indeed, I know you have not, for you put them together at dinner last week."

"Why, yes, I did. She had been angry with me, and I wished to make her happy."

"Over the good lieutenant?"

"As you say."

"But you have just said that you have no interest in that direction."

I stopped and looked at her. "I—" I began, and stopped in confusion.

She nodded, and squeezed my arm. "And what of him? What are his feelings?"

I shook my head. "I don't know, truly. He is warm, and polite, but I have never known him to be otherwise to anyone. Well, except to Mr. Hargreaves, just now."

"And to Jane?"

"The same. In my sight, at least."

"And in mine," she said. "Miss Montjoy, we should have tea." And so saying she steered me into the tea shop where we were soon seated with tea and buns. Miss Derby, that treasure, took herself to another table some distance away.

"Now, Miss Montjoy," said Mrs. Willoughby, "I shall open my thoughts to you."

I nodded, wondering what was coming.

"It has perhaps escaped you that my dear Jane is our only child."

"Oh! And so her husband must be the next squire."

"That is right. So let me be plain. The Willoughbys have been squires in this manor for centuries. It is essential that Jane's husband be a man of the district, and willing to carry on that tradition."

"And Lieutenant Archer is not only not of the district, but might be sent anywhere at all."

Mrs. Willoughby nodded grimly. "And even if he were the eldest, his family's station is far more lofty than that of the Squires of Stourness. He would not settle her, nor would he ever be happy here."

"I think you do him a disservice, Mrs. Willoughby; but it is true that I cannot see him in your husband's place. Squire Willoughby is all that a country squire should be, if I may be so bold. But a man of the district—you cannot wish her wed to Edward Hargreaves!"

"Certainly not."

"But then who? Not Thomas Porter, my dear Jane would go mad. Nor Wallace Hampton. And Sir Roger de Montfort is surely far too old!"

"There is one other."

I must have looked a complete blank, for she laughed.

"Your brother Edward is an estimable man," she said. "And it does appear that he intends to remain in Wickshire, does it not? He is in training with your man of business, is he not?"

I studied her face. Her ever-present good humor remained, but I could tell she was in earnest. I finished my bun as I pondered, and she waited patiently.

"I suppose I needn't tell you that there is some attachment on his side," I said. She nodded, as well she might. "And if he could be brought to study Jane's happiness as he is currently studying farming, why, I suppose he should succeed at making her happy. But what of Lieutenant Archer?"

"Ah!" she said, and there was a world of meaning in that simple utterance.

It is beginning to seem to me that there is quite as much complexity in social as in arcane geometry, my dear Armand; perhaps more so.

Your embattled cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Dinner and Mangelwurzels (3 June 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

1 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

Papa arrived at The Elms not too early in the afternoon last Wednesday, while Edward was berating me yet again for my high-handed, injudicious, and socially injurious plans to host a dinner party.

"For a young unmarried lady such as yourself—" he was saying, when we both caught the sound of coach wheels on gravel.

"Who can that be?" I said calmly—for I have been strategically calm all week, my dear Armand—and glided out of the drawing room into the front hall, where Morphick was already opening the front door.

"Why, Papa! How good to see you," I said, kissing him lightly on the cheek, and giving no sign that I had been expecting him for the past hour.

"Indeed, it is good that you are here," said Edward in thunderous tones. "I must speak with you immediately."

"Yes, Edward, we must talk," said Papa cheerfully as he took off his heavy traveling coat and handed it to Morphick. "But first I must have a tot of brandy to take the chill off, and then I must speak with Blightwell. Would you fetch him for me, please? If he isn't in his office I am sure he will be about the Home Farm somewhere."

"Of course, Father," said Edward, with the greatest reluctance, and went to do so.

"And now, Amelia, come with me and tell me what's to do."

"Mangelwurzels, Papa," I said as we entered the library. "Mangelwurzels are what's to do. Oh, and Edward wants to speak with you about tomorrow night's dinner party, because as a young unmarried lady I ought not be hosting such a thing. Here is the seating chart. You must rearrange it however you like."

He took the chart and glanced over it. "I see you have invited the Grimsbys. Was that truly necessary?"

"Of course it was, dear Papa. They have been so attentive these past months."

He sighed. "Yes, I know. It's simply that I knew Mrs. Grimsby when she was just young Gertrude Smotherwack. I see that you have Edward sitting between her daughters."

"He has been…challenging, Papa. I will move him if you prefer."

"No, no, he has sown the wind; it is only fair that he should reap." He pondered the chart for a few more moments. "I believe I know everyone here except your two Lieutenants. Tell me about, yes, tell me about this Lieutenant Pertwee."

"Good hearted, cheerful, stalwart, likely a good friend in a pinch, and of no mental capacity whatsoever. I met him at tea. At the Grimsbys, as I recall."

"And this Lieutenant Archer. I have heard a great deal about him from Edward already; now I should like to hear from you."

"I believe I should like you to come to your own conclusions," I said.

"Like that, is it? So Edward was correct?" He wasn't angry, Armand, but his gaze was beyond pointed.

"No!" I said. "No! I—I don't know, Papa. Oh, what does it matter! He is quite taken with Jane Willoughby, I believe, and she with him."

'Ah. And what about those books you asked me to procure for you?"

"Oh! Did you bring them? Are they here?"

"In my trunk. I trust your interest in wizardry has to do with young Archer?"

I blushed, Armand! I, who have been out long enough to win and then jilt—that is to say, I surprised myself.

"Well, yes, Papa, he spoke of it once. And yet, the subject has quite captured my attention. Perhaps I am merely turning blue with boredom."

"And what do you think of it?"

"It is quite a difficult study, I find, but it speaks to me somehow. Perhaps the new books will help."

"Very well," he said, handing me the seating chart. "I see no need to amend this. Indeed, I am quite looking forward to it."

Edward returned with Blightwell at that moment; and I am afraid I can give you no account of their discussion, for Papa sent me off to ask Morphic to bring a decanter of brandy. I may have lingered in the vicinity long enough to see Blightwell march out with a smile on his face. He closed the library doors firmly behind him, and came to me.

"Thank you, Miss Montjoy. It will all be all right now." He nodded, and strolled away humming under his breath.

Being wiser than Edward, I did not linger to witness my beloved brother's discomfiture, however tempted I surely was.

Edward was quiet all of the next day—I saw very little of him, in fact, though he came into the library once or twice looking for a book, being myself involved with instructing Mrs. Morphick and the servants we had hired for the evening.

The dinner party was a joy and a delight. I sat Mrs. and Squire Willoughby on Papa's left and right, with myself next to the Squire and Lieutenant Archer next to Mrs. Willoughby—close enough to allow Papa to observe him closely, but not so close as to make any kind of untoward public statement. True, both lieutenants were closer to the top of the table than Yorke manners would admit; but it has not been that long since the war against Le Maréchal, and folk here in Wickshire are still in the habit of showing their appreciation to our gallant soldiers. If Papa could not contrive to have a word with him over the port and cigars, well.

I put Jane next to him, for I am not heartless, and that tiresome Edward Hargreaves next beyond her, for I am not stupid. Lt. Pertwee was to my right, with the Grimsby girls and Edward beyond him, and Mr. and Mrs. Grimsby at the foot of the table.

Have I mentioned The Grimsby's husband? I believe not. He is an estimable man, silent, cheerful, attentive to his food, and utterly deaf to his wife's constant flow of speech—to which I rather think he pays no attention at all. The few times I have met him in Stourton he has greeted me with a smile and a tip of his hat and asked after my health. I find that I feel somewhat sisterly towards him, for in him I detect another who has learned the value of a strategic calm. He is much welcomed by hostesses here in Wickshire.

There were no fireworks—truly, Armand, you should know me better than that! Though Brother Edward seemed rather harried before the first course was removed. I am sure I do not see why, for young Agatha and Matilda Grimsby seemed eager to please him, and I am sure that he neither understood nor marked the honeyed barbs the sisters were flinging at each other. Edward Hargreaves was a perfect gentleman, attentive to his dinner companions—which is what I would expect from him, I may say—and if he shot me a longing look or too I heartlessly failed to see them.

For my part I had an enjoyable meal. I paid no more attention to Lieutenant Archer than to anyone else, which is to say I greeted him warmly and then let him make his own way. I heard him speaking with the Willoughby ladies about his experiences in the war, and about garrison duty in Wickshire, and nothing at all about wizardry, which made me smile to myself. Squire Willoughby is always good company, flirting outrageously while yet staying firmly within the bounds of propriety—a true skill, I have come to believe—and Lt. Pertwee was happy to listen to me babble about my difficulties with arcane geometry, nodding as if he understood—not that I understand it myself, though having looked into the tomes Papa brought for me I now know what symmetry is. I told Edward this morning that he is perfectly symmetrical, which made him bristle.

"It's quite true," I said. "You're known for it. Ask anyone."

Father returned to Yorke this morning. Before he left, he said to me, "Your Lieutenant Archer seems a fine young man, Amelia; I quite like him. His family is good, and I see no signs of dissipated living. But please take care. A soldier is no kind of husband, nor is his allowance generous enough to support you as you would wish. If he were the eldest, well. You could do better—you have done better, in fact—but the Archers are an old, respectable family. But as things are—"

"I know, Papa. I know."

Edward, I fear, has spent the last days in a state of tense fascination mixed with frustration. I have heard nothing definite, but he has been following Blightwell about the estate like a baby duckling; and I gather that Papa has commended him for his newfound interest in the management of our affairs here in Wickshire, promised to do all he can to ensure that he learns everything he needs to know in that line, and has put him firmly under the thumb of the esteemed Blightwell. I am grateful, as it gives him little time to concern himself with my affairs.

In the meantime I have continued my studies—but this letter has already gone on far too long.

Your studious and cheerful cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Scientific Farming (27 May 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

25 March 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I am by no means an idiot or a fool, as I hope you know; and yet somehow the behavior of my brother Edward passes all understanding. On the one hand we have Mr. Blightwell, my father's man-of-business. I have mentioned him to you before: he has been seeing to the manor here at The Elms since before I was born. And by "manor" I do not mean only The Elms itself, the house in whose library I am sitting, or even its immediate grounds; I mean the farms which together comprise the remainder of my father's land here in Wickshire. He is responsible, hardworking, and the cornerstone of my father's prosperity.

And on the other hand, we have my brother Edward, who has been talking with Edward Hargreaves about scientific farming, has read a book or two on the subject, and is confident that he, having not the slightest acquaintance with the day-to-day realities of farming, knows better than a man who has exhibited his competence repeatedly this past age.

And yet he must be listened to, for he can justly claim to be Father's representative. It is beyond enough for me, and worse for poor Blightwell, who came to me almost in tears this past Wednesday.

"It's Master Edward," he said. "He's bound and determined that we should plow our fields under and put in something called mangelwurzels!"

"Mangelwurzels! They sound quite horrific," I said.

"Beets, Miss Montjoy, a kind of beet. The coming thing, he says. They feed 'em to stock, he says. But they won't grow here, miss, it gets too cold, nor we don't have any stock to feed 'em too. And there's worse!"

"What could be worse than mangelwurzels?"

"He wants to plant the apple orchards with 'em! Ten years I've been growing those orchards, and they've only just started bearing the last two!"

I stared at him. "You are saying that my brother wishes you to pull down bearing fruit trees root and branch, so that he can plant some kind of beet that doesn't grow in these climes, in order to feed animal stock we do not have on our estates?"

"Yes, Miss Amelia! And he's told me to do what I'm told, and not to bother your father with it."

"He can't do that!"

"He told me it was to be a surprise," said Blightwell in miserable tones.

"I should think it would be!" I nodded firmly. "I shall certainly bother my father with it, you have my word. In the meantime, do nothing to the orchards; I shall answer for it if need be, and I shall endeavor to keep brother Edward occupied until my father can post down and put things to rights. Shall we shake on it?"

"Oh, no, Miss Amelia—your word is good with me. So is your brother's, more's the pity: what he says he'll do, he'll do."

"Leave him to me, Blightwell; I'll see to him."

And so I have. I wrote to Father immediately, of course and expect him tomorrow; and have I led Edward a merry romp? I should say so!

First I invited Lieutenants Archer and Pertwee to tea—not them alone, of course, for that would look too particular, but also Mrs. and Miss Willoughby and La Grimsby and her daughters. I sent out the notes on Wednesday for tea on Thursday, and once they had quite gone I announced the affair to Edward.

"Oh, Edward, we are having some of our acquaintance over to tea tomorrow."

He looked up from Barber's South Cumbria: New Methods in Agriculture. "Oh! Have you invited Miss Willoughby?"

"Of course, for you have been teasing me to do so this age. And also the Grimsbys, for I must return their kindness to me, and a couple of officers from the garrison."

His face darkened predictably. "Not that Lieutenant Archer!"

"But of course, dear Edward. Who else? Well, and Lieutenant Pertwee."

He closed the book and inwardly I rejoiced. And then, when he had finished berating me for my loose ways and left me alone, swearing to compose such a letter to our father, I sent out invitations for a dinner party with a light heart. For he had already missed the post for the day, so that Father was sure to receive my letter first; and in my letter I had explained to Father in detail what I meant to do.

The tea party went off quite well, if by "well" you mean that it was calculated to keep Edward's best foot backward. I was careful to see that Jane Willoughby was seated by Lieutenant Archer—for though I would prefer to speak with him myself, a largish afternoon tea is no place to discuss matters of arcane geometry, and I do wish to placate her; and having Jane by the lieutenant is calculated to frustrate Edward almost as much as it would if I had him by me. Then, I sat Edward between La Grimsby's two daughters, Agatha and Matilda; for he is a fine figure of a man, and I felt sure that they would therefore keep him occupied. I sat between the good Mrs. Willoughby and Lieutenant Pertwee. The latter was all good cheer, and the former could not keep a sparkle from her eye as she gazed about the drawing room. The squire's wife is a woman of understanding, and I am sure she was more alive to the social undercurrents than I was, who had engineered them to the best of my ability! More, I expect she has some inklings of Blightwell's difficulties with Edward.

The dinner party will be in two day's time, on Thursday; and I have been keeping Edward on tenterhooks all of the week, filling him with details as to the courses and refusing to speak about the seating arrangements—for of course Father will be there and must have the last word, though Edward is not to know that for now.

Be sure that I shall communicate the results to you, dear Armand!

Your impish cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Arcane Geometry (20 May 37 AF)

First Letter

Letters from Armorica: Arcane Geometry (20 May 37 AF)

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

18 March 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I am so glad that you are not here, and that you are already married, for the geometries here in Wickshire are already quite sufficiently tangled; your unmarried presence would be beyond enough. And then, I have no one to offer you but one of the Grimsby sisters, and I hope I am a better hostess than that!

I have spent my week struggling to understand Hopsgood's Arcane Geometry, and I confess to you that it is heavy going. There is something that I do not know what it is, for Hopsgood doesn't tell me, that can flow from node to node. (I do not know what nodes are, either.) And if you draw the geometries properly, which seems to have to do with the arrangement of nodes, then the flows will balance, which is a good thing. Except, sometimes, it seems to be a bad thing. For some circumstances, evidently, it is quite right and proper and socially acceptable for the flows not to balance, provide that the result is symmetrical. Hopsgood does not use this word above half-a-dozen times per page, and I have no idea what it means.

To sum up, after a week of study I do not know what it is that flows, where it comes from, why it flows, or why I should want it to flow, because Hopsgood does not address any of these things. I have read a great deal about different arrangements of nodes, but nothing about how one would go about positioning a node in practice. It is all very well to tell me that a set of nodes arranged as a "reverse-hourglass hypothetical lozenge with Cadwallader insets" both smooths and amplifies the flow ("amplifies" is another word I do not know) when I would not recognize a node if I passed one on the street.

In short, Hopsgood assumes that I already know what wizardry is about, which you will agree, is unhelpful in the extreme.

Needless to say, the library here at The Elms has been utterly useless in this regard. And as the weather has warmed this week, replacing the snow with rain, I have had no opportunity to visit Stourness looking for works on—I do not know what I should call it. Mundane geometry? Plebeian geometry? I should settle for a good dictionary, like the one on the stand in the main reading room at the lending library.

I suppose I shall have to send a letter to Papa and ask him to send me such things, for I am sure any plea to Edward to travel to Yorke on my behalf would fail. He is unlikely to leave me here unattended, now that he is aware of Lieutenant Archer's wizardly interests; nor, now that he is fixated on Jane Willoughby, will he wish to leave Wickshire on his own. Instead, he has been plaguing me to invite her to tea—for the deeper currents of last week's meeting in Stourness entirely eluded him. I have no doubt she would come, if we invited her, and indeed I should be glad to do so if I thought she would come in a spirit of charity and good will.

I have sufficient address, I know, that I could allay her suspicions with a few well-chosen words and a bright smile, and all should be well again—but then I should have to avoid Lieutenant Archer, to smile at him politely and speak to him not at all beyond social nothings, and I find I have no desire to do so. How should I, when he is likely the only person in all of Wickshire who can explain to me what it means for an arrangement of nodes to be symmetrical?

But I cannot say that to my dear Jane, for she would accuse me of being disingenuous. And so I have avoided her this week, to my shame. But I have not been socially idle, oh no! For my dearest brother Edward has had his good friend Edward Hargreaves over to dine three times this week, and to tea twice! Dinner has been a trial, for they will discuss scientific farming through every course, and both Edwards persist in trying to engage me in the conversation, and to explain to me the difficult points. It is beyond enough!

And then, they will not even have the gentlemanly tact to linger over the port and cigars and leave a young lady to gather her scattered wits on her own in the drawing room. No, they must join me not ten minutes after the cloth is drawn, reeking not at all of wine and smoke, and continue their discussion.

If dinner is bad, tea is worse, for Edward has decided to play matchmaker. Clearly I must be in want of a husband, if I am dangling after Lieutenant Archer; and he clearly believes that Edward Hargreaves would make me a solid husband if only I would deign to accept him. Mr. Hargreaves is by no means averse to this plan, for at tea he spreads himself, doing his best to fix his interest with me.

Perhaps I could reconcile myself to that in time, for he looks well and is by no means stupid…but he is so full of himself and his own concerns that he has no room to learn about mine. He is intelligent, I suppose you may say, on one topic only. If I were the clinging sort of female, the brainless sort who would hang on Mr. Hargreave's every word and begin every sentence with "Edward says," well. I should be happy to gaze on his masculine beauty and good manners, and let his words become fixed in my brain without the least understanding. You remember Agatha Crumwell—she would have done quite well for Mr. Hargreaves, I believe. But I am not that sort.

Failing a man of character and understanding, I should do much better with a man of character who could be managed than with a single-minded man like Edward Hargreaves. I should probably contrive to be quite comfortable with a man like Lieutenant Archer's friend Lieutenant Pertwee, given sufficient income; for he would never trouble me with any thoughts but those I should give him. I shouldn't be happy, mind you. But comfortable, yes.

Have I shocked you, dear Armand? This is what it is to be a young lady of our station; I learned to make such calculations in the schoolroom.

And so, I shall write to Papa asking for a good dictionary, and books on geometry; and I shall continue my studies; and perhaps I shall manage to discourage Mr. Hargreaves without marring my reputation in Wickshire.

Your harried cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Rivalry (13 May 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

11 March 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I was able to go by sleigh to the library in Stourton this week, for the air was clear, the sun bright and cold, and the snow deep and even. I wrapped up in fur rugs with hot bricks at my feet, and had Brother Edward's solid bulk at my side, and so I was warm enough, at least for the ride there; on the ride home I was heated, I am afraid, by my anger and frustration.

But I get ahead of myself. There was no market in Stourton this week, due to the depth of the snow, nor any promenading to speak of; but the shops were busy enough and the library was not untenanted. Now, I like a browse in a library as much as anyone; but as I was eagerly in pursuit of my quarry I went straight to business, which is to say straight to the librarian.

Mr. Cobb is a middle-aged man with spectacles and thin hair, a pronounced nose, and no meat on his bones to speak of, who sits at a desk in the central room of the library. On this day he was bundled up so that he looked twice his normal size—for the library is by no means well-heated. I asked where I might find anything on wizardry, and he looked at me with some surprise.

"In that room, miss," he said, indicating the proper doorway with a jerk of his head. "You'll find the little we have in the middle case on the right wall, on the top shelf."

"You seem surprised," I said. "Ought a young lady not be inquiring into such things?"

"Not at all, miss," he said. "But no one's ever asked for them before this afternoon, and, well, as you'll see…"

"Someone is there before me?"

He nodded. I sighed for who could it be but Lieutenant Archer? Not that I shouldn't wish to see him, but I had Edward by me. "And now," I thought to myself, "Edward will think that I have been making assignations, when I have done no such thing."

Imagine my surprise, then, when I entered the indicated room and saw my dear Jane Willoughby on her tiptoes before the relevant bookcase, scanning the titles on the upper shelf!

Of course, I said nothing about my quarry, but only, "Why, Jane, I am fortunate, I find! I did not expect to see you today."

She smiled at me with a tinge of embarrassment, and said, "Why, Amelia, how good to see you. Yes, it has been quite dull at Stourness this past fortnight and so I am looking for something new to read."

Edward had been by me when I spoke with the librarian, of course, and and in his usual style he put his outsized foot in the middle of it.

"Have you also conceived an interest in things magical, Miss Willoughby?" he asked, in his most gallant style—by which I learned that Brother Edward was beginning to take an interest in dear Jane. At any normal time I should be glad of it, for a closer acquaintance could do nothing but improve Edward's understanding, and I have grown quite fond of Jane; but now, well.

"Oh, Mr. Montjoy," she said. "Are you also interested in the wizardly arts?"

"Not I, indeed," he said, "but my sister has been combing the library at The Elms for that very thing."

At that, Jane shot me a look I had not seen from her before: pointed, dark, the look of a woman at her rival. "Has she," she said, lightly enough in all truth, for her manners are exquisite, but I could tell her emotions were quite otherwise.

"Why, yes," said my idiot brother. "I really cannot account for it; perhaps it is something in the air here in Wickshire, for I am sure Amelia never displayed any interest in the subject in London."

"I am sure it is no surprise," she said, with another dark look at me. "In weather like this, what else is one to do? One cannot be knitting all the day long." By which, of course, she meant that I should tend to my own knitting and leave her intended beau alone.

I felt I should die, for it was truly unfair. My interest in wizardry is purely one of curiosity and a desire for diversion! Also, I had thought that I alone was aware of the good lieutenant's interests in that direction, for I had not passed them along to her.

It was a fraught situation, my dear Armand, and I was trying to determine how best to spread oil on the waters when a voice said, "Miss Montjoy, Miss Willoughby, how pleasant to meet you both here."

It was Lieutenant Archer, of course. Edward bristled, and the temperature dropped several degrees as Jane realized that the lieutenant had spoken to me _first_—again, unfair, as I was merely standing closer to the door.

But she rallied quickly. "A good day to you, lieutenant," she said. "Would you please lend me a hand?" And she indicated a book on the top-shelf.

"Of course," he said, causing Edward to bristle on his own behalf this time, rather than on mine. The lieutenant took down the indicated volume, a thick one bound in red leather, and started in surprise. "Leicester's Principles of Wizardry," he exclaimed, and I perceived that it was the very book he had himself been seeking. "I fear you shall find this too advanced," he said, and looking along the shelf he took down and handed her another, much slimmer, volume. "I should start here, if I were you. This is Murgatroyd's The Wizardly Arts. Read it, and if you find you are still interested I shall suggest another."

"You have my gratitude, Lieutenant," she said, and glancing sidewise at me took his arm, and the two of them went off to see Mr. Cobb, taking both volumes with them. Edward watched them go with thunder in the line of his brow while I pointedly turned my back on them and approached the shelf.

There was little enough left to choose from. There was a volume entitled The Mathematics of Magic, and another entitled Arcane Geometry by someone named Hopsgood. I took down the latter, thinking, "At least it is likely to have pictures." Then I had to stand by, seething, while Edward looked for a book on scientific farming; for he and Edward Hargreaves have become quite friendly.

The lieutenant and Miss Willoughby were both gone when we approached the desk; and I am proud that my own brow was unruffled and my demeanor calm as Mr. Cobb stamped my book, for he gave me a knowing look, and I could tell that it would soon be all around the district that Miss Willoughby and Miss Montjoy were competing for the attentions of Lieutenant Archer of the 2nd Hussars.

We returned home, and though I have glanced at the first pages of my acquisition I have been quite unable to give it any attention; for my heart is sore, and Edward has, of course, been "unable to remain silent" about how impossible it would be for me to make a match with a poor lieutenant. I have said nothing, remaining silent; while he, of course, has remained silent himself about his own dismay at the lieutenant's obvious interest in Miss Willoughby. Probably he imagines that no one else is aware of it.

Your discommoded cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Wizardry (6 May 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

4 March 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

It will not surprise you than in the week since the dinner party at the Willoughbys I have conceived an interest in wizardry! I have always been curious, as you well know; and just this morning, my darling brother Edward remarked that he found me curious indeed.

I had not given wizardry two thoughts before that day, other than being aware that there was such a thing as the Royal College of Wizards, nor had I any idea as to what wizardry consists of—any more, dear cousin, than I have any idea as to what your profession of forming consists of. If put to it, I suppose I would have said that they were much the same kind of thing. This, I have learned, is almost as grave a solecism as shoving the—well. As grave a solecism, then, as pushing a darling of the ton into a duck pond.

And yet, I still can't see why one ought not to compare the two.

In part, this is due to the deficiencies of the library here at The Elms—one would think that no Montjoy had ever exhibited any curiosity regarding the magical arts. Although, when I consider my brothers, I suppose one must think that, for Jack is too unstudious and Edward too dull to dabble in wizardry—it is the very word he used to me today at breakfast. "So, Amelia, are you going to spend your day dabbling in magic again today? It is a good day for it."

As you can see, he has chosen to be amused and dismissive rather than alarmed and dismissive, from which you will have rapidly inferred that he knows nothing of the cause of my new interest. It keeps me in the library, where I am safe, instead of out and about where I might dangle instead of dabble, and so he is pleased.

Not that there is danger of danglement—is that a word, do you think, Armand?—this week, for it is now March, and though I do not normally associate blizzards with lions the wind is indeed roaring about the eaves and making the windows rattle.

I have found little about wizardry in our collection—well, other than colorful and highly romantic events in various novels and sagas, with which I was already perfectly familiar. I cannot take them for a guide, though; I rather doubt that the King that was had Lieutenant Archer's great-uncle strew the landscape with enchanted castles and pavilions so as to tempt His Majesty's knights errant away from the path of virtue. In fact, I do not believe that King Simon had any knights errant, and judging from the stories that have come to my ears, I do not believe virtue was of great concern to him. And while it would be enchanting, in both senses of the word, to give Edward the ass's ears he so richly deserves, I do believe my father would be disappointed in me.

Nor have I determined just what forming involves, precisely, which surprises me not at all given your father's insistence on what he calls guild secrets. One would have thought my grandfather would have done some research before allowing Aunt Jane to marry a former, but if he did the proof is nowhere at The Elms.

In the old tales, if there is any truth to them, there does seem to be a distinction between wizards proper and enchanters. The terms are used loosely, but an enchanter seems to be a person who uses magic to permanently modify objects in some special way—which is more or less the little you've told me of your craft, whereas wizardry seems to be used more in the moment, if you see what I mean.

I am not sure I do.

If the weather improves, I shall take the sleigh to Stourton and visit the library there; if they have Anaxagoras, perhaps they shall have some work on wizardry that is, in all likelihood, similarly lonely.

Your curious cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Dinner Party (29 April 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

25 February 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

The weather having been fine and the moon being full, Squire and Mrs. Willoughby hosted a dinner party this past week, to which I and Brother Edward were invited. It was my first dinner party in Wickshire! And it was a much grander thing than a mere tea, though of course not nearly so grand as a ball.

I have been cataloguing, for my own benefit and appreciation, the kinds of social events one might encounter here in the country. First there is "coming over for tea," which is a small gathering of not more than five or six people, congenial or otherwise. In Yorke, "coming over for tea" lasts precisely for the socially acceptable half-hour, except among family or intimate friends, and then either takes one's leave or escapes gratefully, depending on the company. In the country, possibly due to the distance between homes and the vicissitudes of winter travel, however, tea may be much more prolonged.

Then there is Market Day, where one might meet and speak with almost anyone—within the bounds of propriety, of course, pace my brother Edward. Market Day is a delight in good weather, and an excellent time for meeting a friend, for one might promenade about together at length. One is constantly interrupted, of course.

And then there is the dinner party, which is rather more like Market Day than tea, only more constrained. In Yorke a hostess plans the guest list for a dinner party most carefully, choosing to invite those who will get on well together, or those to whom one owes an invitation, or those who will strike sparks from one other, all according to the needs and inclinations of the hostess. It is much the same here in Wickshire, except that the pool of those one might invite is much smaller; and unlike a ball, one needn't invite those one dislikes.

The guests gather in the drawing room, as in Yorke, for conversation, and then go into dinner together in strict order of precedence…but precedence in the country is quite a different thing than precedence in Yorke. To my surprise Squire Willoughby honored me by taking me in himself, though of course I was seated rather further down the table.

"Privilege of rank," he said to me, with a broad smile.

"La, sir," I said, in my most affected tone, "you shall turn my head! And you old enough to be my beloved Jane's father!"

"And so I am," he chuckled, patting my arm, "and so I am!"

But I get ahead of myself. In Stourton, on Market Day, one may greet anyone in one's acquaintance that one chances to pass by, be it Miss Willoughby or Lieutenant Archer; but in the drawing room a young lady must be less forward. When Edward and I arrived, therefore, I immediately went and sat with Miss Willoughby, whom I had not seen in some days, and then waited for the young gentlemen to come to us.

Which they did, of course. There was no room on the sofa for Edward but he took up station nearby, adopting his most forbidding mien. Lieutenants Pertwee and Archer soon joined us despite his manifest, along with another handsome young man I had not met but who proved to be Edward Hargreaves the scientific farmer.

My dear Jane performed introductions, introducing the two Edwards to one another; and shortly thereafter the doors were opened and the good squire came to take me in to dinner.

Once I was seated I had to laugh; for Mrs. Willoughby had placed Lieutenant Archer to my left, between Jane and myself, and Lieutenant Pertwee to my right, while Brother Edward watched in consternation from several places down on the opposite side of the table.

I spent the first course chatting not unagreeably with Lieutenant Pertwee, who is a decent man, though dim, and hearing about events at the garrison and how Pollock had beaten Maskerton at whist.

"Rolled him up, too, took his entire allowance," said Pertwee. "Bad business, that. Can't stay away from the cards in garrison, of course. Not much else to do this time of year. Still, it was a bad business."

With the next course, Archer turned to me with a gentle smile. "And now, Miss Montjoy, how do you do?"

It was my first chance for a prolonged exchange with the good lieutenant, and I took full advantage.

"Your brother officer tells me that it is quite slow in garrison this time of year," I said. "Tell me, how do you find it? Has Anaxagoras been the balm for which you were hoping?"

"Not he," he said with a laugh. "A few choice ideas, mind you, but hidden amidst a mass of infernal nonsense. I was quite disappointed."

"It seemed an odd selection to me," I said. "Do many officers go in for ancient philosophy?"

"Hardly," said he. "But am not your typical officer, you know."

"I see that, of course. What accounts for it, if I may be so bold?"

He gave me a rueful smile. "It has long been the tradition in my family that the second son serve in one regiment or another. But until the passing of my brother Ernest I was the third son, and so was bound for the University." He shrugged slightly.

"Why, I am sorry for your loss!" I said. "I hope you do not find the military life too…too—"

"Physical?" he said. "Not at all, for I am a countryman myself. But I try to keep up my studies. And service does have its present compensations."

I rewarded him with a demure smile. "More of your philosophy?" I asked, deliberately misunderstanding him.

"It is quite to my taste. But, again in keeping with family tradition, I am most interested in wizardry. My uncle belongs to the Royal College, and in his day my great-uncle Matthew was Court Wizard to the King who was."

"Wizardry? Truly?"

"Quite so—not that I seem to have any great talent for it, so perhaps it is best that I was compelled to take on another career."

Philosophy, wizardry, quite the gentleman, and so well-looking in his uniform—if I were dangling after the officers, Armand, I fear I should be quite jealous of my dear Jane Willoughby.

Your loving cousin,


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